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Obama should visit West Bank villages affected by the Wall and settler harassment

‘International law demands the fence/wall and the settlements be removed from the Occupied Palestinian Territories’ - Ann Harrison

Israel’s fence/wall through the occupied West Bank - and the settlements that take over even more land - are violations of international law, Amnesty International said today, as the organisation called on the US President Barack Obama to visit affected villages for himself.

Amnesty has learnt that in recent days Palestinian farmers in the northern West Bank village of Jayyus - who for years have had trouble accessing their land through the military fence/wall - are now faced with Israeli settlers setting up additional obstacles.

Settlers have installed a caravan outpost to the north of the Israeli settlement Tsufim on the farmers’ land in an apparent reaction to the process of re-routing the fence as the Israeli military belatedly acts on a 2009 Israeli High Court of Justice ruling requiring this. On Sunday a group who appeared to be settlers staged a demonstration next to one of the farmers’ access gates in the military fence. The village is an agricultural community of 3,500 inhabitants, all of whom rely directly or indirectly on farming for their livelihoods. Sunday’s protest blocked the farmers’ access for several hours.

Settlers in the area oppose the High Court ruling because Palestinians are being handed back land previously earmarked by the Israeli government for settlement expansion. The Jayyus farmers, who are expecting 2.4 square kilometres of land to be returned, say they’re nevertheless dismayed at the widespread damage to fertile agricultural land by the fence’s re-routing. Even after the re-routing of the fence - which in this area is an electrified and heavily-guarded construction - five square kilometres of Jayyus land (well over half) will still be left inaccessible.

While the Jayyus fence was being constructed the Israeli army promised to allow villagers free access to their land, and immediately after its construction permits were granted to most farmers. However, the army soon began refusing to renew a growing number of farmers’ permits, depriving them and their families of their livelihood. According to Jayyus municipality estimates, fewer than half of local farmers now have permits to access their land.

The settlement of Tsufim is one of more than 130 settlements housing over half a million Israelis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The settlements violate a range of Palestinian human rights, including the rights to be free from discrimination and to an adequate standard of living.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Ann Harrison said:

“President Obama has talked tough about halting the Israeli settlement project. During his visit to the region he has the perfect opportunity to go to Jayyus and see for himself the consequences of these ongoing violations of international law.

“International law demands the fence/wall and the settlements be removed from the Occupied Palestinian Territories but the reality on the ground is so distant from that, that it feels as though bulldozers have been driven straight through the Geneva Conventions and the International Court of Justice.

“Settlers obstructing the re-routing of the military fence, because it gives a fraction of the Palestinian farmers’ land back to them and frustrates the settlers’ own plans for settlement expansion, is just outrageous.

“The International Court of Justice said that where the military wall encroaches on the Occupied Palestinian Territories it is illegal and should be removed. It said that those who suffered damages as a result of the wall are entitled to reparations. What is also clear under international law is that Israeli settlements are illegal and should be removed.”

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